Unique In Every Way – Dike Route and East Face (5.6, 5.4, IV) – Dike Pinnacle and Middle Teton, Grand Teton Nat. Park (08.20.22)

The Dike Route is a captivating 3000′ alpine climb that ascends the east face of the 12,809′ Middle Teton and it’s eastern sub-peak, the 12,350′ Dike Pinnacle, by way of a striking diabase dike gawked at by Garnet Canyon travelers far and wide. The “climb” is better classified as a full spectrum mountaineering adventure, with technical rock climbing up to 5.6, route finding difficulties, loose rock, several rappels, a runout traverse pitch, excessive third class scrambling, a long descent and mandatory steep snow crossings. On August 20th, 2022 I ticked the long desired beast with my girlfriend, Bobbi Clemmer, as her first grade IV – an epic one to say the least.

The striking diabase dike on the Middle Teton

Bobbi and I have aspired to climb the Middle Teton’s Black Dike ever since we laid eyes on it years ago. Rounding the corner of Garnet Canyon the dike is immediately visible, a multi-thousand foot, seemingly vertical gash juxtaposed brilliantly against the pale grey gneiss and composite granite that adorns the rest of the mountain’s lower eastern flanks. The route itself lacks universal definition, as a murky first ascent history and several variations leave room for interpretation. The molten dike terminates some 300 feet below the summit of the Dike Pinnacle and as such, many parties do not continue on to climb the Middle Teton, or even the Dike Pinnacle. One interpretation of the route tops the dike, skips the Pinnacle summit, traverses the steep Middle Teton Glacier and continues up the East Face of the Middle Teton. Another simply tags the summit of the Pinnacle and descends directly into the South Fork of Garnet Canyon, sans Middle Teton, likely the most popular. The third, our unpopular line of choice, summits both peaks by way of two rappels and one convoluted traverse pitch off the Pinnacle to the Ellingwood Col, continuing to ascend the East Face of the Middle Teton. We chose option three to maximize scenery and leave nothing on the table – go big or go home – just the way we like it.

Our plan was to climb the Dike Route as part of a longer multi-peak traverse to Nez Perce, with overnight gear for two bivouacs in the Garnet Canyon Meadows and South Fork. We reached the Meadows Friday evening and camped directly beneath the dike under crystal clear skies. Our alarms panged at 5:30 and after a hasty hot pot of Seven Grain Cream of the West Cereal, we scrambled to the base of the dike and tied in by 8:00AM.

The author heading up pitch one
Bobbi Clemmer chugging up pitch two of the Dike Route

The first two pitches of the dike are surprisingly low angle, mostly low-fifth class scrambling with the occasional 5.4 or 5.5 move. Protection in the angular fractured rock is few and far between, but positive holds make the long run-outs acceptable. After one and a half rope-lengths the pitch eases off to a ramble, then ramps up into the 5.6 crux, a short corner with an awkward step climbed on the right. A fixed anchor can be found here with two rusty pins and some ratty purple tat, best supplemented. Two more rope-lengths took us through mysterious broken vertical blocks glued together solely by the hands of god, up another short and awkward 5.6 corner by way of a semi-hanging belay, and a final pitch of glorious grippy run-out slab climbing to a formidable alpine pine that marks the end of the sustained climbing on the lower mountain, and provides superb canopy. Four pitches off the deck we had devoured the meat and potatoes, but 2,500 feet of mountain still remained.

Cutie in the dike

Following the steeper lower dike is several hundred feet of third, fourth and occasionally fifth class scrambling, oscillating between the dike and long fields of sour choss. We stalked the feature all the way to the north ridge with 10 meters of rope between us, if only to simul-climb the very infrequent steps of more technical rock. At the terminus of the dike we jimmied up the north ridge on exposed quartz studded fourth class slabs reminiscent of Teewinot’s East Face, perched on the fringes of Teton universe. Six hours after tie in we were taking selfies on the summit of the Dike Pinnacle, admiring the 800 feet of Middle Teton staring back at us, but equally lamenting fierce clouds building overhead.

Team photo on the Dike Pinnacle summit
Topo for descent to Ellingwood Col from the Dike Pinnacle, with VERY approximate and seasonally dependent lines!!

The descent to the Ellingwood Col proved the crux of the day, a delicate winding dance down the desperately chossy west face. Mighty exposed fourth class slabs to the south led to a ramp that wandered back north, and a twenty foot down-climb above tremendous air to a suspect slung block rappel station. From here we zinged about 15 meters to a large ledge, coiled the line and jungled across a massive chockstone spanning a precarious gap between the dike and an unnamed spire to the west. On the far end of the chock we set a belay and roped across a somewhat dirty traversing down-climb (5.5), 60 feet across and 20 feet down the south face of the unnamed spire with little more than a micro cam and a tipped out purple DMM nut to prevent a wicked pendulum fall. A 15M rappel off an anemic horn with several slings, barely visible from the belay, brought us to yet another ramp network above the Ellingwood Couloir, which we followed west to a small tunnel, the Middle Teton Glacier and the Ellingwood Col. A convoluted escape if you ask me – one of the more precarious in the range – not for the faint of heart or those without an affinity for dodging death blocks and skirting lichen crusted slabs. It’s all there, just perhaps a little vague.

The final rappel off the shoulder of the unnamed spire of the Dike Pinnacle, can you spot Bobbi?
Crossing the Ellingwood Col snow-bridge… in climbing shoes… Steeper than it looks!

From the top of the Ellingwood Col we got spontaneously surrounded by clouds, no thunder, but enough darkness to fear the worst. Time was creeping on 5:00PM and 700 some feet of unknown slab still lied ahead. The best beta we had was to “follow the weaknesses”, and though fare ahead looked generally easy, questing into the alpine unknown is often dicy and time consuming business. We debated bailing down the Ellingwood Couloir, but 2,000 feet of shooting gallery scree was off-putting to say the least. We settled on continuation, contingent on an overnight bivy if foul weather swept in – the benefits to carrying extra gear up the mountain.

The Ellingwood snow-bridge still warranted the use of axes, though we made easy passage without crampons and by way of a short belay. On the upper face we generally climbed the bulging slabs left of the major drainage gully, glacial polished compact granite rarely exceeding low-fifth class, though reluctantly decided against simul-climbing given a disparity in protection and the odd difficult move. We raced to the summit best we could, climbing 60M at a time on an average pace of 30 minutes per pitch. The final pitch to and through the notch earned the route its 5.4 grade, but was routine in my new TX4 approach shoes. I was amazed by Bobbi’s ability to ramp into fifth gear and gun up the slabs, practically jogging in her comfy Mythos. At 8:00PM we topped out the Middle Teton, 12 hours after tying in and mere minutes before sunset. What an ethereal, otherworldly display the colors were.

The beautiful smile of sweet victory

In total our tango with the Dike Route entailed nine pitches of roped climbing, four on the dike itself, one on the hand-traverse descent and four more on the Middle Teton. The Ortenburger-Jackson guide suggested as many as 22 roped pitches, but we both agreed this was an unfathomable statistic. Without the willingness to simul-climb or scramble low-fifth class, maybe a half dozen “pitches” would have been added to our itinerary. Loose rock and several long stretches of unsavory third and fourth class will likely bar us from repeating this route, yet we both agree it was a phenomenal conquest worthy of the tick. As a team, the Dike Route represented a serious milestone. The challenges of this route have little to do with the assigned climbing grade, but rather endurance, mental stamina and general alpine savviness. Covering 3,000 feet of precarious and technical mountain ground, carrying a 25 pound pack nonetheless, was a first for Bobbi, and she dispatched the work well.

We descended the Southwest Couloir by headlamp and after a few errant turns, settled into a comfy bivi site by 11:30PM on the exposed saddle separating the South and Middle Tetons. Despite lead legs we went on to attempt a six peak traverse to Nez Perce the following day, but didn’t move fast enough to avoid getting stormed off the Ice Cream Cone. We bailed down the Cone/South Teton moraine safely amidst thunder-booms and sprinkles, found an abandoned ice axe seemingly used for a deadman anchor several decades ago, and jogged out the meadows by sunset that evening. An impeccable two days and four peaks with my best friend, watching her grow and develop into a formidable alpine athlete, and achieving high marks as a team on an another excellent adventure in the ever humbling Grand Teton National Park.


Gear Check

We carried a trimmed down alpine rack of cams from #0.3 to #1, one set of standard nuts, one small set of offset nuts, a few RP’s and one large DMM hex. Though I placed the hex, it certainly wasn’t mandatory, along with the offsets. A competent party could make do with even less. Several long slings (120cm and beyond) help for the wandering protection available on the lower dike pitches. One 60M rope clears the rappels with ease. Extra bail cord is prudent for the Dike Pinnacle rappels, as the anchors see little traffic, and may need to be replaced.

Recommended Guidebooks

  • A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range, 3rd edition, Leigh Ortenburger & Renny Jackson
  • Teton Rock Climbs, Aaron Gams

Ten Thousand Too Far is generously supported by Icelantic Skis from Golden Colorado, Barrels & Bins Natural Market in Driggs Idaho, and Range Meal Bars from Bozeman Montana. Give these guys some business – who doesn’t need great skis and wholesome food?

Errors? Typos? Leave a comment below or send an email to bwanthal@gmail.com

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Ski mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing and all other forms of mountain recreation are inherently dangerous. Should you decide to attempt anything you read about in this article, you are doing so at your own risk! This article is written to the best possible level of accuracy and detail, but I am only human – information could be presented wrong. Furthermore, conditions in the mountains are subject to change at any time. Ten Thousand Too Far and Brandon Wanthal are not liable for any actions or repercussions acted upon or suffered from the result of this article’s reading.

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